A longtime Orange Grove Center patient whose body was found in a transport van died from hyperthermia and dehydration, according to a recent lawsuit calling for $7.5 million from the facility.
Chattanooga authorities are nearly finished investigating the death of Carrie Lee Parkey Jr., a 60-year-old man whom Orange Grove staff located around 3 p.m. in the back of a van at a group home on Lillian Court.
Once they're finished, Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston will review the evidence for "several weeks" to determine whether he wants to bring any criminal charges, his spokeswoman, Melydia Clewell, wrote in an email.
In the meantime, Parkey's sister, Edith, has teamed up with Cleveland attorneys Robert Thompson and James Logan, who filed a civil lawsuit last month claiming Orange Grove is responsible for the wrongful death of its "cognitively impaired and disabled" patient.
"The defendant failed to remove Mr. Parkey from the van or failed to prevent Mr. Parkey from re-entering the van," the lawsuit says, adding that Orange Grove instead marked the 60-year-old as "absent."
The lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court on Aug. 30, contains the information Parkey's legal team has been able to glean from the investigation so far, Thompson said.
"Edith Parkey filed the lawsuit in order to obtain further information and explanation as to what caused him to be left behind and die from hyperthermia in the van," Thompson said. "Often times the legal system provides the opportunity for people to get an explanation and also to prevent such further conduct that might injure others."
The suit does say Parkey died of hyperthermia, where a person's body temperature rises to higher levels than normal. The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office said Wednesday it cannot release the autopsy report. But the Times Free Press obtained a copy that confirms the manner of death: hyperthermia and exposure to high environmental temperatures. The cause is also marked "accidental" as opposed to suicide or homicide.
That report is just one piece Pinkston will have to consider.
"That medical determination is not absolute," said defense attorney Bill Speek. "It's simply a piece of evidence that can be used by a prosecutor in bringing charges. They are relied upon pretty heavily, though, in Hamilton County."
Orange Grove spokeswoman Heidi Hoffecker said Wednesday the facility received the lawsuit but declined to comment because of the pending investigation and litigation. Once the center responds, attorneys will exchange evidence and work toward a settlement, trial or dismissal in court.
Orange Grove released a statement in April highlighting its long record of caring for the mentally disabled and lamenting the death of Parkey, a patient since 1974.
The Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has investigated 210 allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation of Orange Grove clients since January 2012, the Times Free Press reported in May. Though a little more than a third were substantiated by evidence, that's still considered a low rate by Tennessee standards, according to the report.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.